Tuesday 29 September 2015

Lake Bled and the Vintgar Gorge

Slovenia, 25th – 28th September 2015

Today marks our third day around Lake Bled before moving onto Bohinj, and it seems bad things really do come in threes.  The first is that it would appear there is a clothing thief on the loose around the campsite and I have now been deprived of my favourite pair of jeans (more on that later).  The second was our trip across the Lake to a pizzeria we’d read offered English breakfasts ending in disappointment (short answer: didn’t sell enough, not on the menu any more).  The third was that we decided to test the durability of one of our camping mugs by giving it a collision with the ground en-route to the washing up sinks (short answer: it’s brittle, one of us will have to have hot drinks from a glass instead).  Given that these bad things are getting less serious with each encounter, I can only assume that things are on the way up.  So it’s time to focus on the positives: Vintgar Gorge, and Lake Bled.

Leaving Bovec

Not ideal for a larger vehicle...
When we left the camperstop at Bovec, we were faced with decisions to make.  Ultimately we were going to make our way around to Lake Bohinj, but choosing a route proved difficult.  By following the wisdom of Daisy the Sat Nav, she suggested two options.  The first was to take the Vrsic pass back over the Alps, which meant facing all those hairpins again during hours when there would be a lot more vehicles on the road.  The second was to cut north into Italy and then west back into Slovenia, which may or may not have featured toll roads (we’ve had to switch off the Avoid Toll Roads setting to get the satnav to use the vignette system in Slovenia).  In the end we decided to ignore Daisy’s suggestions altogether and persuaded her to take the route south of Triglav National Park.

Wise decision?

Matt sent me out of the van to take some pictures of a house
we liked.  Several minutes later he came to check on me as I
got distracted by this church...
Well, it seemed okay at first.  But then around the point where we reached Tolmin, a town south of the national park and the point around which it would have been pointless to turn back, things got a little more interesting.  All of a sudden we were taking awkward country lanes that were wide only in comparison to the tight villages dotted along at healthy intervals.  We came across more blind corners than we’ve faced in a long time, a very small portion of which came with mirrored assistance.  We appeared to be on the home stretch to Bohinj when we were directed down a road that appeared to be single track, steep, and with few passing places.  Maybe it wasn’t as bad further along, but we finally gave in and rerouted to find the least awkward path back onto the motorway.  What should have been a few hours drive had somehow deteriorated into an afternoon of driving, and so we gave up on Bohinj for now and instead went to Lake Bled.  My hat is off to you, Daisy; on this rare occasion, we probably should have listened to your initial suggestions.

The parking area north of Lake Bled
There are a couple of options for staying at Lake Bled.  The most popular option seems to be the campsite to the south (more on that later).  There is also a car park next to the campsite where campers are permitted, but it's €10 8-20hr or 20-8hr.  For our first night we opted for a car park on the northern end of the lake (GPS: 46.36969 14.11814) over the road from a new tourist information centre.  The car park itself was pretty basic and unattractive, but at €10/24hrs in a camper for one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country you can’t really complain too much.  The downside is that the ticket machine only takes coins; thankfully we’d stocked up during the day (rounding off our fuel top-ups and Lidl transactions to awkward amounts so that we’d get plenty of coins in change), and just about managed to scrape enough together for a ticket.

Vintgar Gorge

First stop on the Bled list: Vintgar Gorge.  A few km from the lake, the Vintgar Gorge was created during the last ice age when a river decided to make a canyon of the limestone surface.  The gorge is a gushing river running between sheer rock faces complete with rapids and rock pools, and culminates at the Šum waterfall, or Pod Slap as the signs say, which is around 25m in height.  Originally inaccessible to visitors, the gorge has been made possible to visit by wooden walkways running along the edges, bringing you close enough to the waterfalls to feel the spray on your face.  It’s easy to get a grip on how rocks get eroded here when you see how violently some of the water smashed against the objects in their path.

The Vintgar Gorge isn’t a long trek (around 3km there and back), but it’s certainly very attractive and makes a nice visit (and is only €4 a ticket).  We got a pleasant surprise on our way back to the entrance when we bumped into Pete and Shirley, who we met in Pula, Croatia.  I pretty much walked straight past Pete as I was focussed on moving out of the spray of a waterfall; thankfully Matt and Pete were a little more aware of the people around them and spotted each other, so we stopped for a while to chat.  After visiting Plitvice in Croatia they’d been to Ljubljana and were currently at Camping Bled but were leaving the next day (when we were planning to stay at the site) so it seems we’ve just been missing each other in a lot of places.  Hello if you’re reading this, it was nice bumping into you again!

Lake Bled

Back at Bled, we returned to our parking lot with our still valid ticket and ventured over the road to the tourist centre.  It was a big info centre (not to be confused with the smaller one near the lake) with a very helpful lady at the desk who pointed out lots of places to go on a map of the area surrounding Bled and Bohinj.  There’s also an exhibition here about the local wildlife and surroundings, and the centre seems to be fairly recent.  After raiding their information leaflets and having a quick read through in the van, we finally hit Lake Bled.  There was an Arts and Crafts fair going on over the weekend, so the northern end of the lake was decorated with various people’s handiwork (included knitted tree coverings, farm animals made of hay and a chair constructed out of drive chains and gears).  After giving Bled Castle a miss—the 300ish steps to the top we could deal with but not the €9 entry fee—we had a wander around the fair, looking at the various crafts and reminding ourselves that no matter how pretty it may be, our motorhome doesn’t need another wooden chopping board weighing us down.  We sampled some Bled cake which Matt liked but wasn’t quite to my tastes.

Much more to my personal taste was the coin dispenser I spotted near the festival hall.  No longer did we need to make awkward transactions in order to save up for parking tickets at the annoying change-only machines!  I’ve decided that €30 of coins is an acceptable number to keep in stock (€15 in my purse and €15 in the van at any one time), which may seem like a ridiculous amount of change to keep around, but I’m taking no chances.  After all, if Matt is allowed to hoard Lidl leaflets, it seems only fair that I’m allowed to hoard something too.

After another night in the car park (paid for with my exciting new coin collection), we moved on to Camping Bled (GPS: 46.36131 14.07874, €20 inc taxes with ACSI discount card), which is where we are now staying for the second night in a row.  In that time we’ve cycled around the lake twice, the first time for a return to the Arts and Crafts fair to sample the food stalls.  Amongst our samples was a Posmodulja, an old recipe in which leftover bits of dough are kneaded together and spread with various toppings (the one on offer had cheese and/or garlic) making something like a pizza, and a chicken dish from a stall that appeared to be sponsored by Hofer (Slovenian Aldi), in which you could choose from one of three dishes and pay with a donation of whatever amount you wished, of which the profits went to charity.

We witnessed this fish being reeled in on our way around
Bled - I don't know if I've ever seen one so big in the wild!
Mum, Dad, do you think it would fit in the pond?
The second cycle around the lake was this morning with hopes and dreams of the English breakfast mentioned in our tourist leaflets at a pizzeria at the sports centre, which came to a bit of a bad start when we got outside the van.  The previous day, we’d done two loads of washing (at the slightly pricey €5 a pop) to get up to date before leaving Slovenia as we hope to be less dependent on campsites after this point.  Having experienced a bit of chilly weather with sun and clouds, the washing was still a bit damp in the evening and so we left it out to dry overnight.  When we left the van in the morning, I noticed there were several gaps on the airer.  I knew something was off straight away as we’d left the thing fully loaded, having to take a few damp bits inside for the night that wouldn’t fit on.  As it happens, during the night some opportunistic fellow (which is safe to say is not the choice of words that came to my mind at the time) had taken it upon themselves to get some free clothing.  I assume the thief is female, as more of the missing things are mine.  Matt’s lost a pair of pants and his favourite swimming shorts; I’ve lost some underwear, most of my trainer socks, my walking socks and my favourite pair of jeans.  I assumed it was an isolated incident and we’d just been unlucky, but after I took my whining to Facebook, I heard from Steph (our friend from university who gave us lots of advice on visiting Croatia and Slovenia) that she’d similarly had clothing stolen from the very same campsite about a month prior.  So, a word of warning if you visit Camping Bled: it might be the best place to stay for the Lake, but don’t leave any clothing out of sight you’d miss.

After a failed trip around the lake for an English breakfast that is no longer in circulation, we returned to the van so I could sulk a little.  After lunch when I’d got over myself, we went for a walk to the top of Ojstrica, a hill walk near the campsite which is a bit of a tricky climb up a rocky track.  At 611m above sea level it’s around 135m above the lake water level, and has fantastic views over Bled.  We spent a while chilling up here until the weather also decided that the word ‘chill’ suited it, at which point we made our way back down.

We hired a boat near the campsite (€10/hr) and Matt took me for a row around the lake (I also tried, but it seems my knack for oars only extends as far as kayaking), and we went for a visit to the island in the middle of Lake Bled.  There isn’t a lot on the island beyond a church that you can pay €6 to go in and ring the bell, reached by a climb of 99 steps.  Apparently you’re supposed to carry your loved one to the top; Matt must have been tired from the rowing because he decided I would have to make use of my own legs!

Bled Island
A Pletna, the traditional way of getting over to the island
It’s a Monday today, and it’s noticeably a lot quieter here than it has been over the weekend.  We’ve heard Bohinj has a reputation for being more peaceful than Bled, so combining that with the fact we are now in low season I think we should be in for a pleasant time in our next spot.  Bring it on.

- Jo

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